Monday, 21 December 2009

Contradicting thought processes

It's sometimes the shortest of comments that make the greatest impact. When they strike at a deep conviction that leaves resonating dissonance resounding through an already mixed up mind there is certainly contemplating to be done. And so it was, over a week ago, whilst allowing Jeff Pickthall to further educate me on the wonders of the Furness peninsula hostelries we had fleeting discussion about the most important issues of the day pertaining to beer.

I had opened by expressing surprise at the beer community's condemnation of BrewDog's attempt to further attack the Portman group. I haven't really expressed my view on this before, but whilst I understand the view that the prank that James had played was a little childish, it does point up the fact that neither the Portman group nor Alcohol Focus Scotland get what BrewDog actually do. Jeff offered the view that the Portman group was better than a government imposed watchdog. He also ventured that beer duty was the thing that we should all really get around to dealing with.

I'm not particularly renowned for parking a discussion and then spending a week contemplating it's implications. Perhaps it is previous scientific training that has taught me to look for the surprises that challenge existing knowledge and further explore the reasons for that surprise. When a source of information or opinion is valued it has to be carefully considered and added to the evaluation process. The start of this of course was my assessment of beer duty, which I truly believe is in reality a minor overall problem to the industry and moreover is a symptom of society's view of beer and alcohol in general. Tackle the symptoms only and the route cause will continue to be there.

What remains as the overall problem is a continuing belief by the majority of the population that alcohol is causing many major problems in our society. This belief permits the government to tax alcohol at increasing rates, and the increase is something we should worry about, but the only way to prevent further increases is to look at why there is such widespread belief about the problems of alcohol harm.

This leaves me still in a quandary about the Portman group. If I haven't already made it clear, Jeff is one of those beery friends who's views I take seriously. His points are based on thoughtful contemplation and a hatred of the Daily Mail. That is good enough credentials for me. He is also sometimes right I find, so I have to take his points seriously. I'd have to concede that the Portman group is better than any sort of regulation the numpties that are in charge of our country might come up with. It still remains that the Portman group have absolutely no handle on how the craft beer market works or the products that are being developed.

I have sold 24 bottles of Tokyo* this year. Everyone who has bought it are beer connoisseurs. Most have had a bottle between two or more and drunk it in small measures savouring the flavours, the moment and the company. Some then also bought a bottle to take home to have at Christmas. Without exception everybody who tries it has a sense of proportion and more importantly a sense of humour. They get the words "Everything in moderation, including moderation itself. What logically follows is that you must, from time, have excess. This beer is for those times." and understand what they mean. Excess does not have to mean drinking one and a half gallons of mass produced beer until you fall onto the street, vomit, piss in shop doorways and get into a punch-up. Excess is treating yourself to smoked salmon or a fillet steak or a romantic night away in a swish hotel with your nearest and dearest1 or champagne or Tokyo* in little glasses as a digestif after a splendid meal.

It still remains that the Portman group permit sponsoring of sports events. There is no doubt that the success of the major lager brands in this country are down to it's partnership with the major football clubs and the Premier league. The macho group-think nature of the blokes night out is only reinforced by beer's association with football2. The Portman group also permits adverts that run subtle but powerful messages of a sexual nature. I believe the strength of the multinational companies are always going to have a strong hold on shaping the volume sales of the products that are the real problems.

At a time of year when all my other beer blogging colleagues are considering the year that was I am also turning my thoughts to that introspective process. What I conclude is that we are all part of the checks and balances system that forms our society. Yes, there are problems of alcohol abuse in society. Yes, some of it is under control and the Daily Mail has over-exaggerated the message in that respect. The Portman Group is possibly better than the alternative and of course BrewDog are unhappy with them.

We won't stop the namby pamby nanny state whilst there are still dick-heads out there behaving in an unsavoury nature. If some town centres are a problem due to drunken revellers then there will also be people who care about trying to do something about it. While there is still news that can be broadcast which shows people happily carrying on in this way then we'll have a job preventing the vast majority of people preferring beer duty to a rise in income tax.

And the answer? I don't know, except the issues are still the same base issues that were around when I started this blog over a year ago. I'm not sure we'll ever prevent drunken disorder and perhaps it's no different to how it used to be. As brewers, publicans, beer retailers, beer fans and beer writers perhaps all we can do is to continue to brew, sell, drink and write about great beer. If we keep visiting the pubs that are doing what we want, but remember the ones that aren't might be doing it for somebody else, that is the only real thing we can do to keep pubs going.

I'd like to leave you with a thought. It's not really beer related but is relating to this brilliant medium that we are communicating through. I love music and I do not like the concept that is X Factor. Last night our 18 year old told us of the Facebook campaign to prevent the X Factor winner becoming number one. It was the first time I had listened to the chart show in many years. Controversial perhaps as there are a lot of people upset that poor sweet Joe didn't get the number one slot. Whatever, it's great that an on-line campaign can do so much. Perhaps something the beer community could think about. The problem we might have is finding a common cause.


1I believe the current fashionable term is "Lady Squeeze"

2Yes, that was a bit Daily Mail-think, sorry.


Cooking Lager said...

Thoughtful piece as always, Davey.

The key to an online campaign is firstly keep it simple. One issue rather than multiple, then present it in a manner that all can get behind, rather that pitting say on trade against off. It has to unify rather than divide. Even in the case of x factor if it is to unify against something.

Also make it easy to take part. I believe if you wanted to take part in the anti X factor campaign all you had to do was pay 29p for a music track.

However, do the wider public really care that much? Enough to get the numbers signing up? And if they do, how to publicise it? The anti x factor campaign not only hit facebook but made the national press.

The issue was also a none serious bit of fun, something internet campaigns with mass appeal tend to have in common.

Anonymous said...

"I'm not sure we'll ever prevent drunken disorder and perhaps it's no different to how it used to be."

Do you mean like the Newfield Inn at Seathwaite in the Duddon Valley, four miles from your place? Interesting happenings in 1904. That was a real piss-up!


(Still a nice boozer by the way with a guest ale and simple filling pub grub. Just a bugger to get to over the Hardknott Pass).

Rob Sterowski said...

Yes, I remember Pete Brown also arguing that the Portman Group is preferable to direct state regulation. I think in the present climate he may be right.

In principle I would favour a democratic regulation through the state, something the Portman Group was created to prevent. But I don't trust the state we actually have to do that either disinterestedly or competently.